I just came home from an activity with a room full of amazing women. We shared stories and sang songs. One woman shared her brief story of anxiety, and in that moment…I realized that I needed to share mine. I needed to let others know that they were not alone. I have spent almost 2 years thinking about this topic and almost as long writing this very article. The thought of sharing it left me overwhelmed with anxiousness…until tonight. It’s time to take a stand and no longer be afraid. I will not let anxiety define me or who I am – it is only a small piece of me.
1 in 17 people have a mental disorder. That feels like such a large amount of people that are suffering, yet, are not talking about it. Suffering alone and feeling alone. Mental disorders can range from anxiety and depression, to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. All of these could, and in times, lead to suicide.
I had always suffered from anxiety. I can’t really remember a time that I didn’t. In high school I would become so over-anxious and exhausted that I would miss a few weeks of school and just lie in bed. Anything could trigger it, from a simple comment from a friend to a situation that I had heard about, but did not affect me personally. Completely random triggers would lead to shortness of breath, shaking, becoming overly emotional, fast heart rate, feeling on edge and extremely paranoid.
It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered what was really going on. I was 27 years old and it got to the point that I could hardly leave the house, except for obligations that I HAD to attend to. I would only do what I had to. I felt so overwhelmed, nervous, and paranoid. In a conversation with one of my brothers, he and my sister-in-law helped me to see that I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t a bad person. I just needed professional help and there was nothing to be ashamed of. No amount of praying was going to help me at this point – and there was nothing wrong with that. I am a religious person and so it was difficult to understand why I couldn’t get the peace I needed through scripture reading and prayer.
My grandmother suffered from her own mental illnesses, which ultimately left her feeling that she could no longer live in this world. She left a young family to continue this life without her. I could empathize with her at this point. I had a clear enough mind to know that I would not go that far, but I understood her struggle and the desire to not feel the pain any longer. You feel so alone. In a room full of people, you’re left alone in your head with thoughts that aren’t yours – feelings that you know aren’t rational, but you can’t get rid of them – hope and faith are diminished – you are now in a dark place and you can’t find a way out, while this burden is sitting on you so heavy that you can’t breathe.
Thankfully, through that one conversation with my brother, I got help. I sought out a psychiatrist and for the first time in my life, I went on medication to help me overcome my anxiety. To say I was scared is an understatement. I worried it wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to feel like an overmedicated zombie. We worked out a treatment plan and I started therapy along with my medication. For the first time in forever, I felt clear. My mind was free. I worked hard in therapy to learn how to better cope with my anxieties because I did not want to be on medication for the rest of my life and I was lucky enough to only have to be on it a year.
Now here I sit, 32 years old and I still struggle with those same feelings. But now I have more responsibility, more stresses, more anxiety, more depression, more irrational paranoia, and more sleepless nights. However, I have more to live for, more to get me out of bed, more reasons to force myself to seek help, and even more reasons to voice my experiences to help others.
A few months ago it hit me again – BAM! Life hit me and it hit me hard. I was doubled over with an anxiety attack and I couldn’t shake it this time. I wasn’t expecting it, I had let my guard down and now I was overcome with anxiety and despair. I couldn’t eat. I only wanted to sleep. And I was becoming sicker and sicker. My heart was broken for a sibling that was suffering, my heart ached for yet another failed adoption, I was worried about my husband and how our life was going to pan out, and a million other things piled on top of each other. Each thought led to another, which led to another and finally, I was down a dark path and I realized again that I needed help. When you feel anxious, everything is heightened and a microscopic issue now becomes a bomb. I felt like I was exploding.
What got me through it, yet again? Knowing it would not last forever. We each suffer differently and I now realize that I have a cycle. I know how long it will last and I have discovered what triggers it. I also have learned that it is completely alright if a little small white pill can help me to think clearly – and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I am in therapy to help me learn how to cope with my fears, and I am not ashamed. Sometimes I need to go once a week, and other times I need to go once a month or every other month – and I am not ashamed. I have a daughter that forces me to get out of bed each day just because I can NOT allow my anxiety to disrupt her life. I am blessed that I can now make sure my anxieties don’t become who I am. There are dark days and I accept that there always will be. There are days where I feel so nauseous from anxiety that I can’t hardly breathe, but my little girl doesn’t know it. I still read her books. I still play with her and take her out. I still put on a smile and strive to enjoy every precious second with her and my husband. I have learned to push through the pain. It’s hard and it sucks and did I mention hard? But it’s worth it.
My grandmother never got to see her children grow up or meet her grandchildren. I will NOT allow myself to get to that place. I can’t. I have seen the pain suicide can cause, and that will never been an option. That is why we must seek help now. Don’t wait or worry about being embarrassed. There is too much to live for.
Too many of us have experienced a mental illness in varying ways and we each cope with them differently. On the outside, I am sure I look normal and no one would guess my biggest secret. People laugh when I tell them I have anxiety, they assume I am joking. It’s not their fault. I mask my anxiety by being an outgoing and boisterous person. After tonight though, I realize that I am no longer afraid to share my secret. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I am tired of being ashamed. This is me.
Hello. My name is Hannah and I have anxiety. It is not who I am, but only a piece that I can use to help others around me who struggle as well. I will use it to never judge someone that doesn’t call me back. Or someone that never comes to social activities. Or someone that passes me in the hall without making eye contact. They might be suffering just as much as me. They might be just as overly sensitive and over-thinking every conversation they’ve ever had or COULD have. I will just push a little harder to make sure they know they are not alone and someone is there that has felt the same things, and no, it’s not who you are…it’s only a small piece. Now take a deep breath and breathe. We can do this!
Written by: Hannah Ungricht
This story appeared first on Real Imprints.